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Description: Dementia associated with aging is a serious concern. Dementia is a general term for impairments in memory, thinking, and decision making in ways that can interfere with everyday activities. It can be related in injury, Alzheimer’s disease, changes in blood flow with age and any number of other issues. There are some treatments that may slow the advancement of some types of dementia but there is no general course of treatment or activity that seems to consistently reduce the incidences of dementia. Though this last statement may not be true. The research discussed in the article linked below suggests that walking 10,000 steps a day (you have heard of that magic number) may reduce one’s risk of showing signs of dementia by 50% or more. Impressive and an easy intervention, right? Well sure but think for a minute about what sort of research would need to be done to produce this finding. Then think for another minute about what the research would need to involve if one hoped to be able to make causal as opposed to correlational statements about their results, and thus about the relationship between daily 10,000 steps walking and reductions in rates of later onsets of dementia and THEN have a read through the articled and see what it suggests,

Source: Walking this number of steps everyday can reduce dementia risk by 50%, Linda Carroll, New Middle Age, Today.

Date: September 9, 2022

Image by cozminphotos from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, what did you make of the results discussed in the article? Sounds very straightforward, walk 10,000 steps a day and significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia as you age. I would not for moment argue against the suggestion that daily exercise such as walking is likely good for you. However, the article did not raise the smallest bit of a question about the possibility that other factors might be involved. What if some of the preconditions for the development of dementia with age are also acting to make it less likely that those people would walk 10,000 steps a day prior to the onset of dementia? Researchers using the sorts of HUGE population health datasets used in the reported research very often consider such issues. If you look at the research article itself you will see that their study was perspective, which means they started with a large sample that was free of any signs of dementia at the start of their study and followed them for quite a long time and, as a result, had a large number (nearly 900) participants who developed dementias while in the study. That sort of study does get us closer to causal insight but it does give us causal certainty.


Questions for Discussion:

  1. How is walking thought to be related to dementia in the research discussed in the linked article?
  2. What sorts of causal/correlational challenges does this sort of research study face?
  3. What could the researchers have to get closer to being able to make causal statements about the role of walking in relation to later development of symptoms of dementia?

References (Read Further):

del Pozo Cruz, B., Ahmadi, M. N., Lee, I. M., & Stamatakis, E. (2022). Prospective Associations of Daily Step Counts and Intensity With Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Incidence and Mortality and All-Cause Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine. Link

Su, S., Shi, L., Zheng, Y., Sun, Y., Huang, X., Zhang, A., … & Lu, L. (2022). Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Neurology. Link

Matthay, E. C., Hagan, E., Gottlieb, L. M., Tan, M. L., Vlahov, D., Adler, N. E., & Glymour, M. M. (2020). Alternative causal inference methods in population health research: evaluating tradeoffs and triangulating evidence. SSM-Population Health, 10, 100526. Link

Subramanian, S. V., Glymour, M. M., & Kawachi, I. (2007). Identifying causal ecologic effects on health: a methodological assessment. In Macrosocial determinants of population health (pp. 301-331). Springer, New York, NY. Link

Ravaglia, G., Forti, P., Lucicesare, A., Pisacane, N., Rietti, E., Bianchin, M., & Dalmonte, E. (2008). Physical activity and dementia risk in the elderly: findings from a prospective Italian study. Neurology, 70(19 Part 2), 1786-1794. Link

Blondell, S. J., Hammersley-Mather, R., & Veerman, J. L. (2014). Does physical activity prevent cognitive decline and dementia?: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. BMC public health, 14(1), 1-12. Link